Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Gurus's WNBA Report: Taurasi Leads Phoenix To Seattle Showdown

(Guru’s note: There is another post below this one noting the Big Five City Series dates in Philadelphia collegiate competition. If you got here first and are in melgreenberg.com, just click mel’s blog on the left side to get to the full archive in blogspot. Material for this post is drawn, including quotes, on team reports and wire coverage. The Guru plans to be in NY, er, ahem, Newark to see NY meet Indy Friday night.)

By Mel Greenberg

Though the Phoenix Mercury has Diana Taurasi and no one else has, to tweak a phrase UConn coach Geno Auriemma often boasted when she was leading his Huskies to three NCAA titles, there are other fish in the WNBA waters to offer competition.

That will be the deal when Phoenix (18-13) travels to defending WNBA champion Seattle (18-13) Friday in a game that could determine which one will have home court advantage when the two meet in the best-of-three conference semifinals next week.

Taurasi scored 21 points, including three 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, to spur the Mercury to a 91-76 victory at home over the Tulsa Shock (3-29) to pull into a second-place deadlock 6.5 games behind the WNBA-best Minnesota Lynx (26-7).

Minnesota played the other game on the league schedule and one in which nothing was at stake against the Chicago Sky (14-18), who were eliminated in the East earlier this week to make its it 6-for-6 in the franchise’s history without a postseason experience.

The Lynx, in their final regular season home game in the Target Center in Minneapolis, prevailed 78-69.

While the Mercury have Taurasi, Seattle has another ex-UConn all-timer in Sue Bird in the backcourt and also three-time MVP Lauren Jackson, the Australian center who missed a large portion of the season with a hip injury but returned in time to get the Storm in postseason form.

If Seattle wins Friday night, the Storm get home court and second seed. But if Phoenix wins, they must find a way to handle Minnesota at home in the season final Sunday night.

The Lynx won’t be coasting because the series is tied 2-2 between the two and Minnesota needs the win to have captured each of the five season series in against the Western competition.

Furthermore, Seattle will host Chicago at home on Sunday, so the Storm is likely to win. The Mercury would need an upset if they win Friday and then lose to Minnesota.

The Sky first have a Saturday stop at Los Angeles (13-19) and technically the tie are in a reverse situation in terms of pecking order for the draft lottery.

But having the third or fourth pick next year is academic, though if one of them gets lucky as Minnesota did a year ago to win the No. 1 pick ahead of Tulsa and grab Maya Moore, yet another of the UConn mother lode of talent, that prize might be worth something in terms of either going with youth or making a trade for quicker help.

As it turns out, no matter what Minnesota does in the postseason – its first appearance since 2004 – the Lynx will be back in the pool because they own Washington’s lotto rights courtesy of a deal in which former Tennessee star Nicky Annosike was sent to the Mystics (6-27).

In the win over Tulsa, which was shorthanded due to injuries on top of all the other woes of the season, former LSU star Marie Ferdinand-Harris had 14 points, DeWanna Bonner had 11 points and 10 rebounds, while former Temple star Candice Dupree scored 13.

During the game, Dupree, who had three rebounds, became the 19th player in the WNBA’s 15-year history to have 3,000 career points and 1,500 rebounds.

The sixth overall pick of the 2006 draft by the Chicago Sky, Dupree came to the desert a year ago in the three-way deal in which former Rutgers star Cappie Pondexter landed in New York, while former Liberty star Shameka Christon went to the Midwest, but hardly played because of injuries and was waived when the season began in June.

Meanwhile, beating Tulsa ruined any shot the idle San Antonio Silver Stars (13-19) had to catch the Mercury for third, though coach Dan Hughes’ squad is just happy to have gotten to the playoffs after going on a skid through most of August.

“We will just treat it like every other game, well will play the same way we have played all year,” Taurasi said of Friday night’s showdown for the semifinals showdown involving the Mercury and the Storm. “If you have to change things for a big game, than you aren’t preparing the right way. So we will go to the airport early and go to Seattle and see what we can do.”

Liz Cambage, the young Australian who was the No. 2 overall pick behind Taurasi, scored 22 points and grabbed five rebounds, while Tiffany Jackson had 15 points for the Shock and 10 rebounds, and Andrea Riley scored 14 points while dealing five assists.

Penny Taylor, another of the Mercury’s offensive weapons, missed the game with back spasms, which makes it three in the last week, though she did play in Sunday’s win over Los Angeles that helped send the Sparks to playoff oblivion.

As the season winds down this weekend, many of the annual awards are up for grabs, especially with Jackson and Los Angeles Sparks standout Candace Parker missing a large portion of the season with injuries.

The voters, many waiting till the last minute to cast ballots, sound like people on the NCAA tournament selection committee, saying that while teams’ last games are important, they do impact the overall body of work.

The toughest thing has been differentiating stars on Minnesota, many super talents who took turns in giving the Lynx their landmark season to date.

However, the Minnesota delegation was talking up All-Star point guard Lindsay Whalen’s candidacy after she 20 points, dealt 10 assists and grabbed seven rebounds Thursday night in the win over Chicago. She also set a WNBA record by doing all that without committing a turnover.

“MVP” offered Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve in talking about Whalen’s performance. “If you’re only looking at statistics, maybe it’s not so impressive to an average person that doesn’t watch our team. If you watch our team, and I saw this too, Seimone (Augustus) is right there as well, but I just thought Whay kind of solidified herself tonight again, an exclamation point.”

Augustus had 22 points and rookie Maya Moore scored 16, as the Lynx will head into Phoenix Sunday having won eight of their last nine.

Whalen topped her own Lynx record for assists in a season and is averaging career-highs with 14.1 points and 5.9 assists per game. Seattle’s Bird in 2002 is the only WNBA player to have averaged 14 points and at least six assists in a season.

“That’s an MVP candidate right there,” Augustus said of her teammate. “That’s the leader of our team. That’s why we have the record that we have. That’s why we are so successful this year, because the way she is playing.”

Chicago’s Sylvia Fowles, who might be more of an MVP frontrunner if the Sky were playoff bound, had 17 points, as did teammate Erin Thorn.

Whalen spoke of the desire not to take the Sky lightly, which is why Phoenix could still be in trouble for a first-round home court if the Mercury beat Seattle.

The Storm have the tie-break over the Mercury in terms of conference record because a Phoenix win Friday night and then a tie negates the head-to-head comparison since their series would end 2-2.

“Every game means something,” Whalen said. “It doesn’t really mean much in the standings, but it meant a lot to us. We wanted to win our last home game and we want to be sharp going into the playoffs.”

The Eastern Finish

In Friday’s other two games, Tulsa is at Los Angeles in game of playoff also-rans, while Indiana is at New York.

Though the visiting Fever (21-11) have locked up the East’s top seed, New York (18-14), now in fourth, is in a three-way fight with the defending Eastern playoff champion Atlanta Dream (19-14) and Connecticut Sun (20-13).

The Sun, 1.5 games behind Indiana, are off until Sunday’s home final against New York, while Atlanta is one game behind the Sun and just a half-game in front of New York.

Atlanta goes to Indiana Sunday and has owned the Fever to date 3-0 in their previous meetings.

To retrieve the Guru’s discussion from a few days ago, now that Indiana isn’t factor, here are all the possibilities off the games involving the trio fighting for second.

Standings Right Now With Highest Being Second Seed

Conn. 20-13 –
Atlanta 19-14 1
New York 18-14 1.5

Finishing Scenarios

Scenario No. 1

Conn. Beats New York to finish 21-13
Atlanta beats Indiana to finish 20-14
New York loses to Indiana and Conn to finish 18-16

Scenario No. 2

Conn. Beats New York 21-13
Atlanta Beats Indiana 20-14
New York Beats Indiana but Loses to Conn 19-15.

Scenario No. 3

Atlanta Beats Indiana 20-14
New York Beats Indiana and Conn 20-14
Conn Loses to New York 20-14
Three-way tie break using common series
New York is second 5-4 including 3-2 over Atlanta
Connecticut is third 4-4
Atlanta is fourth 4-5

Scenario No. 4

Conn. Beats New York 21-13
Atlanta Loses to Indiana 19-15
New York Loses to Indiana and Connecticut 18-16

Scenario No. 5

Conn. Beats New York 21-13
New York Beats Indiana Loses To Conn. 19-15
Atlanta Loses to Indiana 19-15
New York is Third 3-2 Series Win Over Atlanta

Scenario No. 6

Conn. Loses To New York 20-14
Atlanta Beats Indiana 20-14
New York Loses to Indiana Beats Connecticut 19-15
Atlanta gets second. Conn. Series was 2-2 But Conf Record Is 14-8 While Conn. Conf. Record is 13-9

Scenario No. 7

Conn. Loses To New York 20-14
New York Beats Indiana and Conn. 20-14
Atlanta Loses To Indiana 19-15
Conn Is Second. Tie-Break With New York After 2-2 Series, Conf. Record is 13-9 While New York Is 12-10.

That is it until Friday’s result s are in.

-- Mel


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